How to Become a Court Reporter

So you want to become a court reporter. You’ve heard that it’s a well paid career that you can start without years of education and which offers interesting, even exciting work, allowing you to view courtroom drama up close and to interact with professionals at various levels of the American justice system. Perhaps you already have a college degree in a related field, or perhaps you hold a degree that has nothing to do with court reporting. Or perhaps you have no more than a high school diploma. Regardless, you’ve decided to pursue court reporting as a career. The question now becomes how to proceed – where to start and how to actually get into the profession. In this post we’ll take a look at some answers to these questions.

Decide on a Method

As you may or may not already be aware, there are three basic court reporting methods that account for the bulk of the reporting done in the industry. These are stenographic reporting, voice writing, and electronic court reporting.

In stenographic reporting, the reporter uses a stenotype machine to capture what is being said in a courtroom. This is a machine with keys that are pressed either one at a time or simultaneously to type or transmit stenographic shorthand. This is a standardized shorthand used in the field designed for quick typing, allowing the stenographer to follow quick speech and courtroom interchanges. In the past the stenography machines actually typed out the symbols, while today they are recorded electronically.

After this shorthand and accompanying notes have been taken down, the reporter transcribes them. That is to say he or she turns them into a clear and readable text file and paper documents.

In voice writing, the court reporter repeats what is being said in the court or other recording situation into a device called a Steno mask. This is basically a mouth mask with a built in microphone. The mask allows the reporter to speak without being heard and distracting the proceedings and keeps the microphone from receiving background sound. The reporter’s verbatim repetition is recorded and later turned into readable transcripts.

Finally, there is electronic or digital reporting. In this method the reporter sets up digital recording equipment in the court room or other situation and simply records the proceedings. The reporter here is responsible for making sure the equipment is functioning and recording well, and for taking notes that are synchronized to the audio using special software. Later either the reporter or a specialist called a transcriber creates the final transcript based on the recording and notes.

Get Educated

The reason it is important to be clear initially on what method of court reporting you would like to use is because the educational paths and skills sets for these different types can be somewhat different. Let’s look at each case and see how you would go about getting educated and into the field:

Stenography

Of the three methods, stenography requires perhaps the most intensive initial educational process. It can take up to three years to learn stenographic typing techniques and the other skills that go along with this type of reporting. A software system called Computer Aided Transcription, or CAT, is often part of the skill set in which a stenographer must become skilled, so educational programs may offer instruction in this as well. CAT translates stenography symbols into readable text in a few seconds and displays the text on a screen, and is used in environments in which hearing impaired individuals need to follow what is being said, as well as in broadcasting. Often an individual goes to career or technical schools that offer programs in stenography as a court reporting modality. There are even career colleges that specialize solely in court reporting.

Often colleges that teach stenographic court reporting are accredited by the National Court Reporter’s Association. This is usually not a legal requirement but schools that are accredited by the NCRA are highly regarded. So your best bet is to find an NCRA accredited school if possible or at least one that upholds NCRA standards (such as training reporters to take dictation at 225 words per minute) and has a good reputation.

Voice Writing

Though voice writing doesn’t involve learning entire shorthand, there are still a number of specialized skills that must be learned. Often schools that offer stenography programs also teach voice recording techniques. A voice writing reporter needs to know how to set up microphones, use a Stenomask, use specialized software, and to listen and repeat speech with a high degree of accuracy. Also he or she must be familiar with transcription techniques to quickly turn the recording into a text document.

Electronic Reporting

Typically electronic reporting is primarily learned through on the job training. The electronic reporter needs to be familiarized with specific digital recording and reporting software that will do the actual work of recording the speech. As the equipment used in electronic reporting is variable and evolving, a reporter often apprentices with an individual using a particular recording technology and thus learns the trade. Transcription of digitally recorded proceedings and other events must be transcribed, so a reporter either learns these skills as well, or it also possible to specialize in electronic transcription as a career in itself. The latter may be learned on the job or studied at a career school.

Certification and Licensing

In general, there aren’t too many stipulations and restrictions as far as state mandated licensing and certification requirements go. They vary, but usually certification is a voluntary matter and states do not necessarily require court reporters to be licensed. There are both local and national scale professional organizations that offer membership and certification. It’s a very good idea to get familiar and affiliated with these professional groups as they can point you in the right direction in a number of ways. Often they specialize in one or another court reporting method.

For instance, as regards the stenographic method, the NCRA (also mentioned above) favors the stenographic method and serves as a resource for reporters in that wing of the industry. This association offers certification exams conferring titles such as Registered Merit Reporter, Registered Diplomate Reporter, and Certified Realtime Reporter. In addition it offers educational and job assistance, general news and information, practitioner listings, and so on.

Another organization, the National Verbatim Reporter’s Association (NVRA) specializes in voice writing and offers the same sorts of services – educational and support, certification, information, and so on.

The analogous professional association for is The American Association of Electronic Reporters and Transcribers (AAERT). This organization certifies both electronic reporters and transcribers, offering separate or combined certifications in those fields. It also offers the same sorts of perks in terms of information and networking that the other organizations do.

Usually after learning the court reporting field through either an educational program or simply be being trained on the job, a reporter takes these or other certifications exams and thus gains a certification. This will stand you in very good stead educationally speaking and is usually more than enough to make you employable by any firm that does court recording or to freelance on your own.

That’s about it. The next step is simply job hunting and finding a job that works for you or setting yourself up in business in an independent sense. But the initial issue to take care of is getting well educated and instructed in your particular field and passing a certification exam given by a respected court reporting professional organization. Good luck!

Helpful Links

National Court Reporter’s Association (NCRA)
http://ncraonline.org/

National Verbatim Reporter’s Association (NVRA)
http://www.nvra.org/

The American Association of Electronic Reporters and Transcribers (AAERT)
http://www.aaert.org/